For many of us the big event of the season is a specific century or a gran fondo in which we want to do our best. You may want to finish your first century. Or have more fun and finish your local century without feeling trashed. Or set a PR in your club’s classic century. Or conquer a particularly hard 100. Or compete against others in a gran fondo. Or ride another endurance event ranging from 100 km to a double century. Whatever your goal(s), here are 15 tips to help you ride your best.
Research Your Event
Pros scout the course before a race. Even if you can’t pre-ride the course, study what’s available on the web. For many events you can chat on-line with veterans about their experiences. Look at typical weather patterns.
Develop a Plan
Don’t just do it. The pros have a specific plan for how they will tackle an event. Make a very simple plan: How fast will you ride each leg of the ride? How long will you stop at each rest stop? Given the start time and your projected finishing time, will you need warmers?
Practice the Ride
If your event is local, ride different sections to familiarize yourself with the terrain and turns and to learn your optimal riding pace. Riding a simulation ride is a valuable technique whether you live near the course or not. Ride 50 miles and every five miles of your ride imagine where you will be another 10 miles into your century. According to your plan what will the terrain be like? How hard will you be riding? Where are the rest stops, how long will you stop and what will you eat and drink at the stop?
Your muscles burn a mix of glycogen and fat for energy. Protein provides only about five percent of your energy during an endurance event. Even the skinniest rider has enough body fat for 100 miles; however, your glycogen stores are limited to a few hours of hard riding. On your training rides and during the event eat primarily carbs, the source of glycogen, while riding.
Test everything during your training rides: pacing, clothing, equipment, food and drink. Don’t try anything new during an event. If you’ve just been eating energy bars, then don’t grab a brownie at an aid station. But if your training rides include a stop for coffee and pastry and then lunch, take advantage of these during your event.
Test Your Nutrition and Hydration
On your training rides experiment with different food and drink to figure out what tastes good, provides enough energy and digests easily.
Starting three days before your event eat more carbs. At each meal cover your plate primarily with carbs and think of protein as a condiment. You’ll probably gain a little water weight, since your body stores water with the glycogen. Don’t worry; you’ll use the water during the event.
Start Fully Hydrated
You want to start the event fully hydrated just like you want to start with a full load of glycogen. Starting three days before the event drink eight glasses of fluid a day, primarily clear unsweetened fluids and avoid alcohol. If you are drinking enough then your urine should be an ample pale yellow stream (unless you are taking supplements, which could produce yellow urine.)
Drink to Satisfy Thirst
If you start the event fully hydrated, then as long as you drink whenever you are thirsty, you’ll be adequately hydrated. We used to be taught “Eat before you are hungry, drink before you are thirsty.” The former is still good advice; however, current research indicates that drinking too much can lead to hyponatremia (low blood sodium), a potentially fatal condition.
Because your glycogen stores are limited you need to replenish them during the ride. To avoid energy swings eat carbs every hour.
Ride Your Ride
From your training rides, scouting the course and your ride plan you know how fast you should ride. Don’t get carried away. Whether you ride by perceived exertion, heart rate or power, ride at your target pace. The group riding the right pace for you might be behind you!
Don’t Go Anaerobic
Anaerobic means you are riding without enough oxygen, i.e., you’re breathing hard enough that you can’t talk. Riding this hard uses up your precious glycogen very quickly and produces lactic acid (the painful burning in your legs). Inevitably you have to slow down to recover. Your overall pace will be faster if you don’t go anaerobic.
Manage Your Time
From your plan you know which aid stations you’ll stop at, how long you’ll stop and what you need to get and do there. If you are riding for time, then think of these as refueling stops, not rest stops. As you near an aid station go through your mental list of what you need to do and then take care of each item quickly. Multi-task if possible—grab something to eat while standing in line to fill your bottles. If you are riding for enjoyment, socialize and enjoy eating and drinking while remaining aware of how much time you are stopping.
Ride Carefully in Groups
Riding in a group saves energy and adds to the fun; however, be careful riding in unfamiliar groups lest you kiss the pavement.
Unlike the pros, you’re not being paid to ride! Whether you are trying to go fast, conquer a particularly difficult route, extend how far you can ride, or enjoy riding with others in an organized event, take pleasure in how well you are riding.
More Information on Endurance Riding
I’ve written three eArticles specifically for Endurance Training and Riding. The three-article bundle covers training, nutrition and the skills for finishing rides of 100km and longer. The 48 pages bundle Endurance Training and Riding is just $13.50 (a 10% savings) and $11.48 for our Premium Members. It includes:
- Training for Endurance Rides— Originally titled “Beyond the Century” the training principles and plans apply equally to roadies doing 100K and 100- mile events. The eArticle starts with how to train for a century and 200 km brevet and then how to prepare for longer brevets including 1200 km rides. 16 pages.
- Nutrition — What to eat and drink before, during and after rides of 100 km and longer.
- Riding the Long Ride — What are the key final preparations for a ride of 100 km or longer, how to complete them and then how to manage every aspect of the ride.
Endurance Training and Riding is $13.50 (a 10% savings) and $11.48 for our Premium Members.
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Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.